Madagascar fails to live up to expectations
By Lady Liberty
* 1/2 out of ****
As I've said before, I'm not much for animation or for kids' movies. But several factors combined to see me buy tickets this weekend for Madagascar anyway. First of all — and perhaps most importantly — it's made by the same people that brought us Shrek and Shrek 2, and I have to confess that I liked the first Shrek movie quite a bit. Secondly, as much as it pains me to admit it, the previews made Madagascar look like it could be funny. And finally, the only other major movie opening this weekend was the remake of The Longest Yard, and preliminary reviews have not — to put it mildly — been kind.
I would have preferred to see Madagascar at a late night showing so as to avoid the problems inherent to small children in theatres. Unfortunately, my schedule didn't permit that to happen. In a way, I'm glad that I ended up at a matinee showing where there were plenty of kids seated all around me because it might otherwise have been hard to tell whether I disliked Madagascar because it was a kids' movie, or I disliked Madagascar because it was bad. Whatever my real reasons are, my instincts were apparently right on since I saw that the kids in the audience didn't much like it, either.
Madagascar tells the simplistic story of several animals who reside in New York City's Central Park Zoo. Alex the lion (voiced by the overrated Ben Stiller) is the self-proclaimed king of the daily show the animals put on for their human visitors. Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) participates in the entertainment, but he spends his hours after the zoo closes daydreaming about running free. Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer in a bit of perfect casting) is a hypochondriac who eternally looks on the dark side of every situation. Gloria the hippopotamus (Jada Pinkett Smith) is perfectly content with her lot, but is never less than completely enthusiastic in everything she does. That, as it turns out, includes escaping the confines of the zoo late one night.
Four precocious penguins who are determined to run away to Antarctica mistakenly dig their escape tunnel into Marty's enclosure. When the penguins' antics dovetail with Marty's fantasies, he determines to leave the zoo, too. And when Alex, Melman, and Gloria discover their friend is missing, they decide to find him. Of course, the humans believe that all of this means that the animals don't like living in the zoo and should be returned to the wild. The quartet almost immediately find themselves boxed into crates and on a ship headed directly for Africa. Once they arrive in the real wild, however, Marty's fantasies are something less than he'd dreamed, and the others must endure difficulties of their own.
The acting in Madagascar is just fine, though Chris Rock (who I normally am not particularly fond of) and David Schwimmer are stand-outs. The animation, while not of the caliber of The Incredibles or even the Shrek franchise, is still quite good. The primary problem with this movie is that it's supposed to be funny and it isn't. Oh, there are a few moments worthy of a chuckle or two, and there are a couple entertaining references to other movies that pop up from time to time (none of which children will get, by the way, given that the movies they reference are quite adult in nature). It doesn't help, of course, that the story is shallow at best and that the plot is utterly predictable from beginning to end.
Neither my friend or I were impressed. More importantly, the kids in the theatre were restless and talkative, and there was nary a giggle to be heard. If you won't take the word of an adult on a movie intended for children (I honestly value the opinion of a kid in a case like this far more than that of a grown-up anyway), then consider the painfully obvious opinion of the kids attending the same showing we did: Madagascar doesn't live up to expectations nor to its marketing campaign.
POLITICAL NOTES: It's politically correct as all get-out to assume that animals are happier in the wild than they are in captivity. To some extent, that's true. But many zoos have become so good at what they do that the captivity isn't as onerous as it once was; most zoo animals aren't "kidnapped" from the wild but are instead born in captivity; and for some unfortunate creatures, zoos represent a last chance at avoiding extinction.
FAMILY SUITABILITY: Madagascar is rated PG because "some material may not be suitable for children." It makes no sense to me whatsoever that a children's movie should be put together in such a way that it gets anything but a G rating, but the PG is deserved. There are moments where Alex considers eating Marty, and a couple of instances of very sudden death in the case of some very cute baby animals. Unfortunately, kids old enough to see Madagascar are also old enough that they probably won't like it much.
Lady Liberty is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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